In 2007 the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse released a landmark study that categorized alcoholics into five subtypes, one of which includes "Functional." The topic of high-functioning alcoholics (HFAs) has also been in the media quite often since.
HFAs are defined as individuals who are able to maintains an average level of outside functioning personally, professionally and/or academically while still drinking alcoholically. HFAs can exhibit various characteristics at different times or phases of their drinking that can be broken down into different categories and include but are not limited to:
- Difficulty viewing themselves as alcoholics because they don’t fit the stereotypical image.
- Believe that they are not alcoholics because they are externally successful.
- Use alcohol as a reward and/or justify drinking to relieve stress.
Professional and Personal Life:
- Able to maintain consistent employment and/or gain an education.
- Well respected for job/academic performance and accomplishments.
- Interpersonal Relationships:
Sustain friendships and family relations.
- Have romantic relationships.
- One alcoholic drink sets off a craving.
- Obsess about the next drinking opportunity.
- Display personality changes and/or compromise morals when intoxicated.
- Repeat unwanted drinking patterns and behaviors.
- Cannot imagine life without alcohol.
- Appear to the outside world to be managing life well.
- Skilled at living a compartmentalized life (separating their professional and drinking lives).
- Appearances contradict the alcoholic stereotype.
- Experience few tangible losses and consequences from their drinking, often by sheer luck.
- Experience recurrent thoughts that because they have not “lost everything,” they have not hit bottom
A NY Post article did go on to make a hopeful statement that “Many influential people now seem more open to talking about it in a ‘I want to be a good role model’ kind of way, which is great.” People who struggle with this also have devastation to their families, and there are millions of high-functioning alcoholics who have not received appropriate addiction care, or even information. So before wishing you were a HFA, understand what it means, and why it isn’t something to wish for.